[Column] Faith Dombo: Public sector considerations for successful cloud adoption
It is hard to argue with the fact that the future of computing for most public sector organisations lies in the cloud. The scalability, agility and innovation unlocked by cloud solutions simply offer an unbeatable value proposition that on-premise solutions cannot match.
As was proven during the pandemic, modern governments need the capability to continue service delivery even amidst widespread disruption. Considering the pace of change in what citizens and other stakeholders expect from their governments, public sector organisations also need access to the latest innovations to ensure they meet expectations and deliver a positive citizen experience.
Despite persistent challenges that include concerns over data sovereignty, the need for new budget models, and a pervasive tech skills challenge, most public sector organisations will almost certainly shift some or most of their processes to cloud environments.
The South African government, for example, published a draft national policy on data and cloud adoption in 2021. The policy noted the importance of harnessing the social potential of data and cloud computing, and provided several proposals for accelerating cloud adoption in the public sector.
The policy provides guidelines for cloud adoption, covering important aspects that include digital infrastructure, data protection, localisation, cybersecurity, governance, skills and innovation. And while policy interventions may take a few years to implement, there is no reason why organisations cannot start moving at least some of their processes to the cloud.
Public sector organisations that are ready to adopt the cloud, or preparing to do so, should keep certain key considerations in mind to ensure the success of their migration, including:
Review the enterprise strategy…
The cloud is not a magic wand for dispelling the organisation’s IT or business challenges. It is a powerful tool that can accelerate the pace at which the business achieves its strategic objectives. But for that to happen, organisations first need to be clear about the strategic objectives and outcomes that they want to achieve, taking particular care of the core elements of people, processes, and technology.
Once the strategic objectives are clear, organisations should seek the most cost-effective and efficient way to achieve those objectives. In the public sector, the answer almost inevitably lies in the cloud: the Department of Public Service Administration (DPSA) has even recently communicated a directive that public sector organisations consider cloud solutions as a first choice prior to any investment into on-premise solutions.
…and the data classification strategy
Once the decision is made to move certain processes to the cloud, public sector organisations must determine what data needs to be migrated. Developing a comprehensive data classification strategy that aligns with the requirements set out by the DPSA will help organisations identify and classify the data that is most at risk.
An effective data classification strategy will help ensure that each data category is stored according to prescription, which is an important element in unlocking cloud opportunities and far more effective than applying a blanket approach for all data in the organisation.
Be clear about cloud’s value case
Cloud migrations are full of promises of greater business agility, lower total cost of ownership, greater flexibility and improved scalability. But it’s near-impossible to prove any of the benefits of moving to the cloud if there is no baseline against which to measure progress.
Prior to any cloud deployment, public sector organisations should set a baseline for aspects such as total cost of ownership, the actual business value of key applications, revenue potential for key processes, efficiency gains and risk reduction. During and after the migration, public sector organisations need to keep close track of these metrics in order to objectively measure business value and determine whether the deployment is meeting organisational objectives.
One of the most attractive aspects of cloud services is that they are generally provided over a set period of time, so public sector organisations can seek a different vendor should their current provider not offer the most cost-competitive or value-adding service. Without the ability to refer back to a clear business case, however, there’s virtually no way for organisations to accurately measure whether the migration has been successful or not.
Take heed of shelfware (and eliminate where needed)
One of the perennial challenges identified in the Auditor-General’s annual reports is that of unused software, or so-called shelfware. Shelfware refers to software tools and licenses that the organisation is paying for, but that is lying dormant and unused.
In some cases this may take the form of organisations buying on-premise software with the intention to implement, but that end up unused due to budget cuts, skills challenges, project overruns or other complexities. For public sector IT leaders, the issue of shelfware calls for a reimagining of existing software roadmaps and the ruthless elimination of perpetual licenses and unused software.
Here, the cloud offers tremendous benefits. Public sector organisations could replace shelfware with cloud subscription licenses that have a clear termination date and quicker deployment roadmap. This will greatly assist with compliance to Auditor-General requirements to avoid wasteful and fruitless expenditure.
While the capital investment in previous on-premise technology is a sunk cost, public sector organisations should take a forward-looking approach. The focus should turn to how the organisation can utilise its operational budget more effectively to meet citizen service delivery needs in the most efficient way possible.